'Other People's Money' Movie's elements prove incompatible

October 18, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Money may make the world go 'round, but it really doesn't make Norman Jewison's new film go very far.

Conceived as a politically correct assault on the greedhead capitalism of the '80s, and derived from an off-Broadway play of that era, "Other People's Money" is earnest, occasionally funny, a little confusing but finally more or less melts down on the incompatibility of its parts.

The movie is built around and stands or falls on the lumpy shoulders of its central figure, Danny DeVito, as gonzo investment commando Lawrence Garfield. Garfield is a strange mixture of Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko and A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh. When he's not salivating lubriciously at the prospects of chowing down on somebody else's million bucks worth of dreams and aspirations, he's romantically mooning belly-down in his bed, his little feet up in the air, a-wiggle with anticipation and yearning.

There's no doubt that DeVito is charismatic and that his energy makes him endlessly fascinating. But somehow he's not quite cute enough to be believable as a teddy bear and not quite mean enough to be believable as a corporate killer. He's too soft for one part of the role and too hard for the other; maybe nobody could have played Lawrence Garfield.

The story is constructed around DeVito's crusade to acquire a New England cable and wire manufacturing plant that has fallen upon hard times. DeVito understands that at this particular moment of monetary liquidity, the assets of the company are worth more than the company itself; he wants to buy it, sell off the parts, then go on his merry way.

The company's owner, stentorian icon Gregory Peck, is aghast; reluctantly he hires his companion Piper Laurie's estranged daughter, a hot shot Wall Street lawyer, to lead the fight to prevent the Garfield gobble. She's played by Penelope Ann Miller, last seen as the Schwarzenegger love-interest in "Kindergarten Cop."

A conceit of the film is that money is sex, and deals are seductions and negotiations foreplay. Is that "heavy," or what? Thus Miller and DeVito bill and coo at each other, whisper dirty nothings into each other's ears (some of the dialogue is so lumpy with double-entendre that it qualifies as pure sexual harassment) and carry on in a state of heightened pre-coital tension. A lot of this goes a very little way.

It's also somewhat irritating that a movie that so ostentatiously identifies itself as liberal and progressive doesn't hesitate a nanosecond in displaying poor Ms. Miller like a Vargas girl in a 1944 Esquire. She's always dressed in some slinky clinger of a gown, and if I described how much of her legs we're treated to, I might get Anita Hill mad at me.

Somehow the gap between DeVito's troll-like energy and Miller's ample beauty destroys the movie, as does their lack of chemistry. You just don't believe that she could fall for him. When she kisses him, he doesn't turn into a prince, he stays froggy little Danny DeVito!

'Other People's Money'

Starring Danny De Vito and Penelope Ann Miller.

Directed by Norman Jewison.

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R.

** 1/2

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